I didn’t intend to begin this series with a bit of moralising – and I’m not really sure where it’s come from, and yet when you begin to think about what really matters in business some moralising does not go amiss.
I’m well aware that there are many who think morals and business do nit mix. I’m not one of them. For me business is all about trust. You can write contracts until the cows come home and candidly they’re not really worth the paper they’re written on. When things are going right everyone pretty much ignores contracts because they usually record lowest common denominator stuff and everyone is trying to do better than that when things are OK. When they’re going wrong then candidly no contract I’ve yet seen can predict where or how people will screw up and as a result whatever fails is rarely predicted and is without a remedy in the contract.
In that case, important as contracts are (and I’ve spent countless hours on them) I think trust is more important. I still deal with people on the basis of looking them in the eye and deciding whether or not they mean what they say. In that case telling the truth is just about the most important thing I value in business.
Just do it. Don’t think twice about it. Tell the truth.
If you’ve ever worked with habitual liars (I have – the sort who didn’t even know they were lying and do it so easily they didn’t even bother to recall what the lie was) you’ll know what a nightmare they are. My advice is simple. If you work for one, leave. If you contract with one, get out as soon as possible. You can’t ever win with such people.
You can always win with people who tell the truth. They admit their mistakes. They tell you how they’re going to put them right. They deliver on time, and if they’re not going to they say so which means you can manage the delay. They stick to their price. If that causes them massive embarrassment they’ll tell you why. Their cards are face up on the table.
In a word, they deliver.
It’s true of staff, suppliers and even customers (I like the ones who say they’ll pay in 30 days and do).
The benefit for them is enormous: you go back to them time after time after time to ask them to do more (although in the case of employees they’re finite – so you promote them instead).
So you win business by being honest. It’s as simple as that.
I demand it here. I tell people when they’ve failed me. I’m clear about it: I say when people don’t seem to be telling me the truth and that I expect nothing less. I offer it in return. I make clear what the price of being dishonest with me is: it’s that we’re going nowhere. That’s happened. Staff, suppliers and customers have all gone for that reason. I have no regrets about that, at all. But I still do, I admit, have occasional moments of deep shame about incidents in my career before I learned that lesson. Like everyone I have things I’d like to re-write. I’m clear, the dishonesty was not criminal or anything like that. But certainly when I was younger I did not live up to the standards I now set. I regret that. I can’t put it right now. But I can make sure I don’t do it again.
I can’t say how much of our success is down to our reputation for straight dealing. I can say I created it. The ex-CEO certainly did not share it. I know it is appreciated. It’s made us money. I think that’s a by-product though. Sleeping at night is the best achievement. Then you can enjoy the other benefits of doing well.